One of the greatest challenges facing those who are
trying to reform a legal system which supports the brutal treatment of
laboratory animals, is the fact that they are classified as "things."
This means they can be tortured and tormented in ways so satanic and
perverted that just the knowledge of what is taking place is sometimes
unbearable. And the legalization of such depravity derives much of its
justification from Christian scholarship.
This scholarship reached its nadir in the work of St.
Thomas Aquinas. His writings form a seemingly impenetrable barrier
against the biblical message of God's love and concern for all sentient
beings. And seven hundred years after his death, Thomist theology
continues to be used by religious spokesmen to justify the abuse of
The Catholic Encyclopedia informs its readers that "the
visible world with which man comes in contact is divided into persons
and non-persons. For the latter term the word "things" is usually
employed ...animals, in contradistinction to persons [are] classed as
things." By arbitrarily relegating animals to the category of "things"
theologians have effectively excluded them from the moral and ethical
consideration due them as sentient beings.
Of course this is an absolute contradiction of the
second chapter of Genesis which clearly states that both animals and
humans are "nefesh chaya" -- living souls. But religious spokesmen
frequently ignore the Bible when it conflicts with their man-made
doctrines. St. Thomas was no exception.
He was so anxious to promote the belief that animals
were a low form of life, that he refused to accept the Genesis account
which teaches that animals, like humans, were created as nonviolent
beings; that the garden of Eden was a peaceable kingdom. Aquinas also
refused to believe that this peaceable kingdom was vegetarian, although
Genesis 1:30, reports that it was: "God said..to all the beasts of the
earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures of the earth
and all the creatures that move on the ground -- everything that has the
breath of life in it, I give every green plant for food."
Although this verse of scripture could not be more
definite, Aquinas refuted it, teaching that "the trees and herbs were
[not] given to all animals and birds, but only to some." His refutation
of the Bible and the insistence that God created animals as dangerous
beings, violent and carnivorous from the beginning, bolstered his claim
that man needed to dominate other creatures and use them for his own
Aquinas was a great believer in the power of observation
and rational thought and in the Summa Theologica wrote that man's
ability "to reason makes him like to the angels." But he was oblivious
to the distortions created by his own subjectivity and prejudice. In the
same treatise in which he claimed angelic reasoning ability, he made the
statement that man's dominion over animals consists of "making use of
them without hindrance." Hardly a heavenly outlook.
The same subjective reasoning led him to argue against
those who claimed there was more than one world in the universe.
Absolutely untrue, Aquinas said: there can only be one world. And he
proceeded to prove this by what he claimed was the use of reason. The
same kind of reasoning led him to teach that "woman is [a] defective and
misbegotten" male and to then propose that this might be due to "some
external force such as that of a south wind, which is moist."
Because Aquinas lived in the thirteenth century and was
a product of the religious and biological prejudices of his own time,
his ignorance can be overlooked. But the same cannot be said of
contemporary religious spokesmen who continue to use Thomist theology to
support the subjugation and abuse of other creatures.
Less than a decade ago, the revised Catechism Of The
Catholic Church made the doctrinal statement that "animals, like plants
and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of
past, present, and future humanity." And the papal encyclical, Gaudium
et spes, stated that "believers and
unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be
ordained to man as to their center and summit."
This kind of teaching is not a Roman Catholic
aberration: it also permeates Protestant Christianity. Even those who
have never directly studied Aquinas, or the various documents based on
his theology, have integrated his teachings into their own belief
Aquinas, and other like-minded men of the past, provided
a rationale which succeeding generations have used to justify and
systemize the brutal treatment of both human and animal beings. Many of
the civil laws that have sanctioned this abuse are based on the writings
of those long-dead men whose self-serving claims of superiority and
god-given dominion allowed the exploitation of others on the basis of
their race, their gender or their species.
Western civilization has finally recognized the
immorality of slavery and is in the process of accepting female
equality. And although Christians were in the forefront of the struggle
to end slavery, they are notable among those reactionaries who still try
to prevent women from assuming positions of leadership. But it is in the
struggle to end the suffering that humans inflict on animals, that the
churches have been most recalcitrant. While many individual Christians
have responded to an evolving, spiritual understanding that animals are
not "things" to be used by men in whatever ways they choose, the
churches have continued to uphold an ungodly status quo.
The current edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches
that "[There are] beings that may be treated simply as means to the
perfection of persons [and] can have no rights, and to this category the
brute creation belongs. In the divine plan of the universe the lower
creatures are subordinated to the welfare of man."
It is the Christian establishment that continues to
uphold the man-made doctrines that have made life on earth a hell for
the millions of animals that are the target of human cruelty and greed.
It is the Christian establishment that refuses to accept Christ's
revelation of a God whose love and concern embraces all creatures here
Copyright 2000 by Viatoris Ministries
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